There are some games that speak more to one team than the other. While there is no denying that Arizona State was humbled and exposed in different areas of their game, their rough 38-17 loss at the hands of Texas A&M spoke more towards the incredible turnaround of the Aggies than the damnation of Arizona State.
Arizona State head coach Todd Graham preached all spring of the improved offensive line, the depth on their defense, and gave praise often to their improved running game. All of those completely stalled at times on Saturday night when Arizona State ran headlong into a team that could possible be one of the most improved teams of the year.
Sep 5, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham and Texas A&M Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin shake hands before a game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
The big question mark heading into both the Devil’s and Aggies seasons lay in their defenses. A&M’s was coming off being one of the worst defensive teams in all the land, while 2014 didn’t treat Arizona State well on the defensive end either. But when the lights came on at NRG stadium, both teams came ready to play; one was just simply better and more improved than the other. The Sun Devils’ season isn’t lost. Here’s why I’m not concerned about Arizona State going forward…
The first reason is a simple one: it wasn’t a conference loss. There’s no doubt that the PAC-12 Champion will be playoff bound. So even though Arizona State has a loss, it doesn’t go against their chances to win the PAC-12 South and play in the conference championship. Despite its rough opening weekend, it the PAC-12 still is a premier conference and the winner will head to the College Football Playoff. That door is still well open for the Sun Devils.
But let’s get into the actually game.
Ultimately it was decided by two plays, both from the former Arizona High School standout, Christian Kirk. Kirk returned a Matt Haack punt 79 yards to the house early in the second quarter to put the Aggies up 14.
Then in the fourth quarter after Mike Bercovici did his best Taylor Kelly impersonation to pull ASU within 7, Kirk took a dump pass from Allen, broke a couple tackles and ran 66 yards to the end zone, subsequently putting the game out of reach.
Texas A&M is full of a potentially star-studded team and I’m not sure why we didn’t see this coming. Christian Kirk has barely tapped into his full potential. The kid will be an absolute stud for the Aggies.
Everybody knows about Myles Garrett and he showed why he has the potential of being an All-SEC and even the Defensive Player of the Year. He dominated the game from the start, sacking Mike Bercovici on the second play from scrimmage and finished with two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss.
But with Daeshon Hall, who tallied had 4 sacks and 7 tackles (4 for a loss), on the other end, they have a chance for the best pass-rush in the nation. Every team in the country is going to experience the same problems that ASU did against those two players.
Maybe the Devils offensive line isn’t as good as advertised, but it was going up against a premier pass rush. Along these lines ASU was also missing running back Kalen Ballage and that played a huge factor as the offense never had that stout back that was able to power through the Aggies defensive line.
Another reason not to panic: the Sun Devil defense is the real deal. They put forth an incredible and admirable effort on Saturday night. Led by Christian Sam, Jordan Simone and Viliami Moeakiola, the Devils bailed the team out of several difficult positions all game. They forced three turnovers and out of A&M’s 18 total drives, 10 drives were kept under 12 yards.
The only reason, ASU was in this game late in the fourth quarter was because of their defense. The score is not really a reflection of how close the game actually was. Although Texas A&M racked up 425 yards of offense, 145 of those came on two plays from Christian Kirk and the special teams were responsible for one of those touchdowns.
Hear this: Arizona State is not out of it. Let’s not forget that the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes lost to Virginia Tech early on in their season an went on to win the National Championship. So is the loss disappointing? Yes, there’s no doubt. Is it the end of the world? By no means. Let’s wait until Pac-12 play before we declare doom and gloom on the 2015 season.